City-Developer Alliance No Solution To Housing Crisis
By Harold Lavender
The interim report of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability claims to “offer bold ideas towards an affordable city.” But the reality falls desperately short of the promise.
The report simply repackages neo-liberal, pro-developer polices. It ignores the fact that the current housing emergency was created by land speculation, corporate profit maximization and lack of government policies to build low-income subsidized housing.
The only new measures are designed to increase collaboration between the city and “the development community” through more Public Private Partnerships and the creation of a new Housing Authority.
The Task Force was co-chaired by Gregor Robertson and Olga Olich, former BC Liberal cabinet minister and former head of the Urban Development Institute, the main developer lobby group. The task force included “architects, designers, builders, non-profit associations, apartment owners, academics and private, non-profit and public sector property developers.” But it didn’t include low-income residents. Not surprisingly the report offers no hope for the majority of DTES residents who live below the $21,000 low-income cutoff line.
The report mentions that supportive housing units are on stream, but ignores that fact that no other forms of low-income social housing (that offer more dignity to residents) are planned. There is brief lip service to lobbying the federal and provincial government for more housing programs. But the main message is that that there is no money to build new 100 percent social housing.
That means people who can’t participate in the market are out of luck.
Instead the Task Force seeks market-driven solutions “for moderate income households earning between $21,000 and a combined $86,500.” However, the report doesn’t clearly define what affordability means or set specific targets for achieving it.
The report is tailor made to fit Vision Vancouver’s electoral agenda of defending the interests of the middle class while doing the bidding of developers (majors funders of Vision). It adopts a don’t-bite-the-hand-that-fed-you approach, containing not a single line criticizing the development industry, and aims to make win-win deals with developers.
Measures such as such strong controls on land speculation and rents, which could give more power and benefits to low-income neighbourhoods and renters, are out of bounds.
One of the primary goals of the report is to increase the supply of housing. According to free market theory increased supply and competition is supposed to lower prices. However, this ignores that fact that large corporations dominate the housing market and set the agenda to serve their private interests.
The report assumes large-scale development is necessary and good. It promotes densification. The aim is to secure and open up chunks of new land for large scale developments and also increase housing development in industrial areas. Rich areas with political clout may be able to maintain low density. But the DTES is to be densified like it or not.
Developers aim to lower their costs and the City will offer various incentives to help this process. Many in the business sector complain of too much red tape rape and want greater certainty for investors. The report sets the goal to “streamline and create more certainty and clarity in the regulatory process”.
The City wants to vary the housing mix including adding more market rental apartments. To help do this they will join with developers in lobbying the federal and provincial government for more incentives (tax breaks).
A new Vancouver Housing authority is potentially a good thing especially in the context of national housing strategy and a commitment to expand the stock of publicly owned and financed low cost housing. However, that is not it’s a mandate. Instead it promotes partnerships including with the private sector. Similarly, a community land trust could be a very good idea if it was designed to provide land for 100 percent social housing. However the aim appears to be lease the land at nominal rates to housing providers. As a result this could become a massive subsidy to private developers.
The report does recommend preserving low-income stock.. But it shrinks from necessary measures of preventing evictions and renovictions of low-income residents.
The report favors renovating the existing stock. However it insists on seeking full cost recovery. Tenants whose housing has been renovated may face substantial rents hikes which could displace them.
The report is completely unwilling to look at the roots of problem or in any way challenge the injustices of the existing power structure.
The extreme excess and failure of the market has provoked an outcry, including the movement to Occupy Wall Street. But there is no outcry in this report, only an extreme lack of political courage to challenge corporate power. It is possible to finance a pubic social justice agenda on housing. But this will require the will to roll back massive tax cuts for the corporations and wealthy and redirect subsidies from the rich to those in need.